Those of you who are familiar with this column know I've talked about downtown parking before. While I don't think parking is the most important issue facing our downtown, I undoubtedly understand that many people do. Therefore, we should talk about it further.
Let's start by admitting that our culture loves the automobile and that has caused the downtown difficulty in competing with the suburbs. We now have to get in our cars to take care of all our personal business. By the way, it's worth noting here that the first suburban retail malls were built near Detroit, the home of the auto industry. That community certainly tells the sad and graphic story of the old downtown verses the auto-friendly suburb, doesn't it?
Recently, I read a well-written document from the National Trust for Historic Preservation and the National Main Street Center titled "The Parking Handbook for Small Communities." This handbook presents several straight-forward steps to address the challenges in downtown parking.
Seven steps are listed in addressing the parking needs of any downtown. The first involves getting organized. After that, there's gathering data, managing existing parking, planning for new, promoting a comprehensive plan, managing parking and putting it all together. Each of these steps is important, but let's just look at the first one, getting organized.
In the recent past, a Downtown PKB subcommittee began scratching the surface of a few parking issues. They soon realized that developing a comprehensive plan must begin with developing a clear understanding of both reality and perception.
First, when examining parking issues, they must be kept in perspective. If tomorrow we could solve every parking need in downtown, we would not solve the major needs of downtown. Parking is often an easy scapegoat when downtown revitalization is slow or unsuccessful. We must remember that parking is infrastructure, not economic development.
Second, we must keep in mind that a quality parking plan takes time, the efforts of professionals, and a public-private partnership. Our community must create a long-range parking plan that is developed by city staff, downtown development people, professional parking consultants, and concerned volunteers.
And we need knowledgeable volunteers. Surely, this community has a couple of retired engineers who would be willing to give their time and talents to making their community worthy of their children and grandchildren. Please don't tell me they all now live in the Villages in Florida.
Lastly, we must remember that automobiles, and a place to park them, are facts of life in our society. Cars are not going away anytime soon, but neither is our downtown. A successful community must develop a comprehensive parking plan that complements its history, character and heritage; a plan that enhances the speed and caliber of downtown revitalization. Our parking needs and downtown culture shouldn't be mutually exclusive.
We don't have to pave paradise to put up a parking lot. (Wow! That could be a song).
Come see me. I'll be in the lounge.
Cecil Childress is General Manager of the Blennerhassett Hotel and Chairman of Downtown PKB.